September 4, 2010

Hanson: Who should exist? And who pays?

Economist Robin Hanson of Overcoming Bias is wondering who should exist? and the ways in which our future creations can pay to exist. He writes,
[C]onsider the question, “Which creatures should be created?” in a future where factories can make a wide range of creatures. This situation might arise with whole brain emulation, or advanced genetic engineering. Imagine a supply-and-demand world where many similar competing profit-seeking factories can each make many possible creatures with great precision, endowing them with any preferred debts or rights, but aren’t overly limited by intellectual property rights. When creating creatures is such a competitive industry, supply and demand has strong implications.
Hanson eventually devises a principle of existence:
Creature X should exist if it wants to exist [i.e., would want to exist if they existed] and it can pay for itself. … Most new creatures would have designs near the peak of factory profitability, and own little surplus relative to their cost. Residual control rights (e.g., “are they slaves?”) would rest in the hands of whomever could squeeze the most market value from them.
Given that a 'creature producing factory' will have to foot the initial cost [his terminology, not mine], he comes up with a list of ways for the factory to recoup:
  • Slavery
  • Debt
  • Stock
  • Contract
  • Gratitude
  • Shared goals
  • Reproduction
Hanson admits that these approaches can be mixed, and concludes by saying, "While today’s creation practices include elements of all these approaches, we clearly lean most heavily on reproduction, and many of us are horrified at the prospect that future folk might not act similarly. For example, some libertarians tell me it is a basic ethical fact that no person should be born with debt, stock, or physical restraints. But I fear this is merely arrogant presumption that our ways must be best."

Nobody thinks like Robin Hanson. Nobody.


Robin Hanson said...

I think that's a complement ... :)

George said...


Unknown said...

A "complement", i.e. -- according to the New Oxford American Dictionary -- "a thing that completes or brings to perfection"?

But anyway, what Robin Hanson considers looks very much like treating human beings as a means to an end -- which I do not want, *not* *at* *all*.

And there are certain points:
- Already today many people are able to decide whether they want to have a child or not -- because of contraceptives. So: Robin Hanson brings up nothing new.
- We already have creature producing factories, if you think of the (disgusting) way some of our foodstuff is produced. Again: nothing new.
- Robin Hanson speaks about "creatures". This is a "good" way of abstracting away, that he talks about human beings. Says a lot about him.

Bottom line: In this case Robin Hanson is no original thinker.